A story written whispered to the marram grass, to the gulls, to the left-behind bucket and spades – for Ajika & Anusha…
The Pilgrim Woman sat on the bottom step of the stairs to the garret when the Landlord came in late. Children surrounded her. One dark-skinned little girl rested her head on the Pilgrim Woman’s lap.
‘Let us begin now – some of us need to go to bed soon’ she said as she smoothed the girl’s plaits.
This is a story I have been told comes from a land far to the south where tigers live – so I know it must be true.
There was once a girl called Ajika who loved to walk by the sea. She had strong legs and a fine new see-through bucket, and she used them both to collect shells for her mummy Anusha.
One afternoon, as she picked up the shells, the wind came and whispered in her ear.
‘This way, Ajika – this way to find all the colours you have ever dreamed of,’ it said in a warm soft voice. She thought of pleasing her mummy, and of amusing her little brother.
So Ajika and her bucket went along with the wind. She walked and she walked, picking up cockles and limpets, scallops and whelks. The wind pushed her ever so gently onward.
Along the strand she met three tiger cubs. Their brown stripes were as dark and lovely as her own skin, and their gold stripes matched her earrings. Of course, they had to ask what she was doing.
‘I am collecting shells for my mummy.’
‘We will come with you,’ they said and so the four friends bounced along the beach together. They found shells of every colour along the way.
The tiger cubs grew hot in their fur coats. Ajika saw them panting. She was a clever girl with a good memory as well as strong legs so she led them back to the nearby forest. They they found water and shade, and had a rest. Ajika washed her shells in her see-through bucket to see their colours glow.
Now this forest was famous for having leaves and flowers of every colour. Even the butterflies had wings like rainbows. But what Ajika didn’t know was that hungry giants sometimes came down to the Rainbow Forest in the evening to find someone to eat.
The tiger cubs dozed in the shade – but wise Ajika kept watch. The sun began to set. She felt the footsteps of the giants shake the ground, she heard the crash and smash of them pushing through the forest, and then the smacking of their lips when they saw the tiger cubs.
‘Aha,’ said one, ‘Thee furry little tiger snacks for tea.’
‘And a little girl for afters!’ said another.
‘Yummy,’ said the third ‘and where there’s one little girl, there’s likely to be a whole juicy family.’
That did it. She swept her bucket of beautiful coloured shells and held it up high.
‘Oh no, you don’t,’ said brave Ajika.’I’m taking these home for my mummy.’
She looked up through the forest to the first star of evening and made a wish. The rays of starlight gleamed through the bucket. They poured the colours from all the shells onto the tiger cubs, turning their stripes into rainbows. Then they completely disappeared into the rainbow forest.
The giants stomped with crossness but they could not find their stripy snacks.
‘As for that girl – she must be an enchantress,’ said the first giant.
The second giant trembled. ‘I wouldn’t dare eat her.’
The third said nothing, just crashed away into the distance.
‘Clever Ajika, you have outwitted them,’ said the wind. It changed direction and took her home.
After giving her daughter hug, and a scolding for being out so late, Anusha took the shells and treasured them. The baby brother had to make do with his wooden blocks.
With thanks to the real Ajika who told me the important parts of the story as we went back to her mummy, Anusha.